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Mirjam van Reisen | Credit. Philips FoundationAMSTERDAM (IDN) - A Court in Amsterdam struck down Meseret Bahlbi lawsuit against Mirjam van Reisen, Dutch professor and human rights advocate. The judge found that she was not guilty of libel and slander and that the youth party of the Eritrean regime can be seen as a means of collecting intelligence abroad. The decision comes as a huge relief not only for the Dutch professor, but also for the Eritrean diaspora across Europe.

When the case was heard on January 27, 2016 in Amsterdam the focus was more about the nature of the regime in Eritrea, and the role played by its supporters in Europe. The court room was packed to overflowing, mostly by Eritreans from the diaspora in Europe. The majority came to support Mirjam van Reisen. She was being sued for libel and slander by Bahlbi, an Eritrean residing in the Netherlands.

Although the legal action centred on remarks made by the professor on Dutch radio, it quickly became apparent that this case was about more than the comments. On February 10, 2016, the judge ruled that van Reisen had no case to answer and awarded damages against Bahlbi in her favour. The ruling ensured that opinions based on research and evidence would not be muted, and should not be silenced by those who disagree.

Although certainly not the crux of the matter, it is important to understand the background of the case. On May 21, 2015 van Reisen expressed concern that two interpreters for the Dutch Immigration Office were siblings of the “centre of the Eritrean intelligence in the Netherlands”.

Bahlbi’s name was not mentioned during the interview for BNR Nieuwsradio, but he felt it was clear that the statemented referred to him. This is because Bahlbi is the former head of the Young People's Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ) in the Netherlands, a nationalist Eritrean Diaspora youth organisation connected to the Eritrean ruling party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

Following van Reisen’s comments, Bahlbi filed a legal action for libel and slander. In the judgement, the judge declared that van Reisen’s statements were warranted and that she had provided sufficient evidence of the facts.

In the Amsterdam court room, both the prosecution and the defence spent little time debating the facts of what was said. Instead, arguments centred on the relationship between the YPFDJ and the PFDJ, conditions in Eritrea, why so many Eritreans were fleeing their country and the existence of the Eritrean secret services in the Netherlands.

Van Reisen’s lawyer strove to show that the YPFDJ was the “eyes and ears” of the Eritrean regime. The court’s decision accepts this to be the reality. A common headline across Dutch newspapers was De lange arm van Eritrea, or the ‘long arm of Eritrea’. The arm not only refers to intelligence gathering, but also to intimidation. UN personnel, journalists and van Reisen herself have all been subjected to intimidation from members of the YPFDJ because they have drawn attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime and its supporters.

Interpreters are a crucial part of the Dutch immigration service, and yet their direct access to political refugees makes them a valuable asset for a repressive and secretive Eritrean state. Information given to interpreters during the asylum process can prove costly for relatives and friends back home. Such interpreters are also in a position to twist the meaning of what is being said. Regulations are in place to ensure that the integrity of interpreters is beyond doubt. They are screened to check that they and their family members are not connected to the Eritrean regime. Questions remain regarding how interpreters with clear connections to the Eritrean regime were employed in the first place.

Professor van Reisen has expressed her relief that the judge ruled in her favour, but also expressed concern and continued to advocate for those fleeing from and suffering in Eritrea. She told the Dutch press “I now know what it feels like to be Eritrean” having witnessed the legal and less than legal attempts to silence her. Overjoyed with the news of her judgement, van Reisen posted on Facebook: “victory to all justice seekers. Together we will continue to pursue the truth.”

The court’s decision sends a strong message – the Netherlands is an open democracy where evidence based criticism is legitimate. The rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech, values that the EU and the Netherlands stand for, have been defended. Values which Eritreans do not enjoy in their own country. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 February 2016]

Related article: Dutch Court Examines Alleged Eritrean Surveillance & Intimidation

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Mirjam van Reisen | Credit. Philips Foundation

2016 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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Source=http://www.indepthnews.info/index.php/global-issues/2732-court-rules-in-favour-of-dutch-human-rights-advocate

 

 

Court Rules in Favour of Dutch Human Rights Advocate

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By Reinhardt Jacobsen | IDN-InDepthNews Report

Mirjam van Reisen | Credit. Philips FoundationAMSTERDAM (IDN) - A Court in Amsterdam struck down Meseret Bahlbi lawsuit against Mirjam van Reisen, Dutch professor and human rights advocate. The judge found that she was not guilty of libel and slander and that the youth party of the Eritrean regime can be seen as a means of collecting intelligence abroad. The decision comes as a huge relief not only for the Dutch professor, but also for the Eritrean diaspora across Europe.

When the case was heard on January 27, 2016 in Amsterdam the focus was more about the nature of the regime in Eritrea, and the role played by its supporters in Europe. The court room was packed to overflowing, mostly by Eritreans from the diaspora in Europe. The majority came to support Mirjam van Reisen. She was being sued for libel and slander by Bahlbi, an Eritrean residing in the Netherlands.

Although the legal action centred on remarks made by the professor on Dutch radio, it quickly became apparent that this case was about more than the comments. On February 10, 2016, the judge ruled that van Reisen had no case to answer and awarded damages against Bahlbi in her favour. The ruling ensured that opinions based on research and evidence would not be muted, and should not be silenced by those who disagree.

Although certainly not the crux of the matter, it is important to understand the background of the case. On May 21, 2015 van Reisen expressed concern that two interpreters for the Dutch Immigration Office were siblings of the “centre of the Eritrean intelligence in the Netherlands”.

Bahlbi’s name was not mentioned during the interview for BNR Nieuwsradio, but he felt it was clear that the statemented referred to him. This is because Bahlbi is the former head of the Young People's Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ) in the Netherlands, a nationalist Eritrean Diaspora youth organisation connected to the Eritrean ruling party, the People's Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ).

Following van Reisen’s comments, Bahlbi filed a legal action for libel and slander. In the judgement, the judge declared that van Reisen’s statements were warranted and that she had provided sufficient evidence of the facts.

In the Amsterdam court room, both the prosecution and the defence spent little time debating the facts of what was said. Instead, arguments centred on the relationship between the YPFDJ and the PFDJ, conditions in Eritrea, why so many Eritreans were fleeing their country and the existence of the Eritrean secret services in the Netherlands.

Van Reisen’s lawyer strove to show that the YPFDJ was the “eyes and ears” of the Eritrean regime. The court’s decision accepts this to be the reality. A common headline across Dutch newspapers was De lange arm van Eritrea, or the ‘long arm of Eritrea’. The arm not only refers to intelligence gathering, but also to intimidation. UN personnel, journalists and van Reisen herself have all been subjected to intimidation from members of the YPFDJ because they have drawn attention to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the regime and its supporters.

Interpreters are a crucial part of the Dutch immigration service, and yet their direct access to political refugees makes them a valuable asset for a repressive and secretive Eritrean state. Information given to interpreters during the asylum process can prove costly for relatives and friends back home. Such interpreters are also in a position to twist the meaning of what is being said. Regulations are in place to ensure that the integrity of interpreters is beyond doubt. They are screened to check that they and their family members are not connected to the Eritrean regime. Questions remain regarding how interpreters with clear connections to the Eritrean regime were employed in the first place.

Professor van Reisen has expressed her relief that the judge ruled in her favour, but also expressed concern and continued to advocate for those fleeing from and suffering in Eritrea. She told the Dutch press “I now know what it feels like to be Eritrean” having witnessed the legal and less than legal attempts to silence her. Overjoyed with the news of her judgement, van Reisen posted on Facebook: “victory to all justice seekers. Together we will continue to pursue the truth.”

The court’s decision sends a strong message – the Netherlands is an open democracy where evidence based criticism is legitimate. The rule of law, democracy and freedom of speech, values that the EU and the Netherlands stand for, have been defended. Values which Eritreans do not enjoy in their own country. [IDN-InDepthNews – 10 February 2016]

Related article: Dutch Court Examines Alleged Eritrean Surveillance & Intimidation

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

Photo: Mirjam van Reisen | Credit. Philips Foundation

2016 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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Eritrea Events of 2015

Tuesday, 09 February 2016 23:26 Written by

Two key developments in 2015 highlighted the consequences of President Isaias Afwerki’s authoritarian rule: the continuing flow of Eritreans escaping the country, and the publication of a scathing 453-page report by a United Nations commission of inquiry describing the serious human rights violations prompting thousands to seek refuge outside Eritrea.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reported at the end of 2014 that 416,857 Eritreans have lodged asylum claims or are registered as refugees, over 9 percent of the country’s population. UNHCR released no comprehensive figures for 2015 but reported about 39,000 Eritreans had applied for asylum by October in 44 industrialized countries alone. In October, 10 members of Eritrea’s national soccer team sought asylum in Botswana.

The commission of inquiry concluded that grave human rights violations “incite an ever-increasing number of Eritreans to leave their country.” Based on over 500 interviews, the UN commission found that the Eritrean government engages in “systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations,” and that the abuses occur in the “context of a total lack of rule of law” with the result that it “is not the law that rules Eritreans, but fear.” 

After refusing the commission entry into the country, the government protested its findings as not based on first-hand in-country observations. The government has never allowed any UN special mechanism investigators into the country.

In June, the UN Human Rights Council extended the commission’s mandate until mid-2016, instructing it to further investigate whether some abuses constitute crimes against humanity.

Indefinite Military Service and Forced Labor

By law, each Eritrean is compelled to serve 18 months in national service starting at 18. In practice, conscripts serve indefinitely, many for over a decade. One escapee, echoing many others, told Human Rights Watch, “I don’t mind military service but in Eritrea it never ends and you have no rights.” Most Eritreans begin military training as part of the last year of high school, but children as young as 15 are sometimes conscripted. Assignments include forced labor for government-owned construction firms, farms, or manufacturers.

Conscripts receive inadequate pay to support themselves, much less a family. They are subject to military discipline and are harshly treated throughout their long service.  Perceived infractions result in incarceration and physical abuse often amounting to torture. Military commanders and jailers have absolute discretion to determine the length of incarceration and the severity of physical abuse. Female conscripts are often sexually abused by commanders. There is no mechanism for redressing abuses; protest can result in more severe punishment. 

Senior government officials told foreign visitors and diplomats in 2015 that the government intended to release the current and future classes of conscripts after they serve 18 months, but President Isaias made no public announcement of a change in policy, nor was there any other independent corroboration of the claim. Yemane Gebreab, the president’s political adviser, admitted to a foreign reporter that demobilization hinged on whether the economy could absorb those released.

When conscripts have been “released” from national service, some have been forced to work for the government, rather than being allowed to choose their own careers and jobs, although at somewhat higher pay than conscripts. Older former conscripts are compelled to participate in the “People’s Army,” including periodic military training and weekly participation in public works projects, guard duty, or security patrols, all without pay. 

Arbitrary Arrest, Prolonged Detention, and Inhumane Conditions

Arbitrary arrests are the norm. A prisoner is rarely told the reason for the arrest; often prison authorities are not informed. Detainees are held indefinitely. Releases are as arbitrary as arrests. Few detainees are brought to trial. 

Prisoners are held in vastly overcrowded cells, underground dungeons, or shipping containers, with no space to lie down, little or no light, oppressive heat or cold, and vermin. Food, water, and sanitation are inadequate.

Beatings and other physical abuse in detention have frequently been reported, sometimes resulting in deaths. The commission of inquiry concluded that the prevalence of torture is a “clear indicator of a deliberate policy” to “instill fear among the population and silence opposition.” Many prisoners simply disappear.

Freedom of Speech and Association

President Isaias rules without institutional restraint. A constitution adopted in 1997 remains unimplemented. No national elections have been held since independence.  Eritrea has had no legislature since 2002. The court system is subject to executive control and interference. Nongovernmental organizations are not permitted. 

The commission of inquiry noted the government’s rampant use of spies through a “complex and militarized system of surveillance.” Family members are often punished for the actions of close relatives, usually by having coupons and licenses necessary to receive government services cancelled; sometimes family members are fined or jailed.

The government owns all media. The Committee to Protect Journalists identified Eritrea as the most censored country in the world. Sixteen journalists remain imprisoned without trial, some since 2001. Six government journalists were granted bail in 2015, almost six years after being jailed without trial. No reason was given for their arrests or provisional releases.

In March, authorities in Adi Keyh, a town southeast of Asmara, bulldozed a number of “unauthorized” houses. When townspeople and students at the nearby College of Arts and Sciences protested, some with sticks and stones, security forces fired at them. Two people were killed and others injured. According to the UN’s special rapporteur on Eritrea, houses were also destroyed near the capital, Asmara, rendering about 3,000 people homeless.

Freedom of Religion

The government persecutes citizens who practice religions other than the four it recognizes —Sunni Islam, Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran churches. Prayer meetings of unrecognized religions are disrupted and participants are arrested. A condition for release is usually a signed statement by the prisoner recanting his religious affiliation.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are especially persecuted. Three arrested in 1994 for refusing to serve in the military remain imprisoned 21 years later. As of mid-2015, they were among 56 jailed Jehovah’s Witnesses. 

The government also interferes with the practices of the four religions it recognizes. The government appointed the Sunni imam in 1996, deposed the patriarch of the Eritrean Orthodox Church in 2005, and appointed his successor. The deposed patriarch remains under house arrest 10 years later. 

Refugee Policy

In 2014, the Danish Immigration Service issued a report suggesting that human rights conditions in Eritrea were better than reported and that no harm would come to Eritreans who were returned from countries where they sought asylum. In 2015, the report was repudiated by two of its three authors amid growing questions about the credibility of the report’s methodology. One of the report authors contended that quotations in the report were taken out of context by his superiors to achieve a political goal of discouraging Eritrean asylum seekers.

Despite widespread criticism of the Danish report, the United Kingdom’s Home Office changed its guidance about Eritrea in early 2015 to assert that asylum-seekers “who left [Eritrea] illegally are no longer considered per se to be at risk of harm or mistreatment amounting to persecution on return.” 

Key International Actors

Eritrea’s relations with neighboring Ethiopia and Djibouti remain severely strained. Fifteen years after a bloody border war, Ethiopia occupies slivers of territory identified by a boundary commission as Eritrean, including the town of Badme where the war began. President Isaias uses the pretext of “no-war, no-peace” to keep his countrymen under totalitarian control. 

In September, Molla Asghedom, head of an armed Ethiopian opposition group, the Tigray People’s Democratic Movement (TPDM), long given sanctuary in Eritrea and reportedly used to round up draft evaders and to protect President Isaias, fled to Ethiopia via Sudan, accompanied by several hundred followers. Eritrea continues to host other armed Ethiopian opposition groups.

The UN Security Council maintained an arms embargo on Eritrea for another year after receiving a report from its Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea that found no evidence Eritrea was still supporting Al-Shabaab rebels in Somalia, but complained Eritrea had not cooperated in Monitoring Group investigations and had not provided information about Djiboutian prisoners of war captured in border clashes in 2008.

Much of Eritrea’s foreign exchange income comes from foreign gold/copper mining company projects in which the Eritrean government holds a 40 percent stake. In 2015, a mine, majority-owned by China’s Shanghai Corporation for Foreign Economic and Technological Cooperation (SFECO), began operations, joining the Bisha mine, majority- owned by Canada’s Nevsun Resources. A third mine, bought in late 2015 by Chinese state-owned Sichuan Road & Bridge Mining Investment Development Corp. (SRBM) from a Canadian majority-owner is expected to begin operations in late 2016. Based on Nevsun’s experience, there are concerns that new mining projects will be compelled to use government-owned construction firms for infrastructure development and thereby indirectly use conscript labor.

China is Eritrea’s largest trading partner, investor, and contractor. One company, China Harbor Engineering Co., is engaged in a US$400 million project to modernize Eritrea’s primary port, Massawa. 

At time of writing, the European Union was reportedly considering a five-year €200 (US$216) million aid package designed to address “the root causes of migration.”

Source=https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2016/country-chapters/eritrea

 

 

At a press briefing held at Latvia's only asylum seeker center, at Mucenieki on the outskirts of Riga, Interior Ministry official Ilze Petersone-Godmane said the two families consisting of two adults and one young child in each case, had freely chosen to seek refuge in Latvia . 

"All the adults have higher education... and have expressed willingness to learn Latvian and integrate into Latvian society," Petersone-Godmane said.

Their skills included hotel management, hairdressing and fashion design and had genuine reasons to leave their homelands in fear of their lives, she added.

Moreover, the new arrivals - who speak English as well as their native tongues - had read up on Latvia via the internet and with information supplied by officials.

"They knew about and chose to come to Latvia, not just to any destination... We have of course warned them that there will be huge media interest in them, but during these first days we ask that you allow them to settle in," Petersone-Godmane asked the media.

"The stories they will tell you about themselves are much more emotional and personal than I could tell you about them," she added.

Their backgrounds were extensively checked before embarking on their journey northward from Greece  and upon arrival in Latvia, according to internationally agreed procedures and the Asylum Law, they submitted applications for asylum seeker status, were fingerprinted and issued with suitable documents, border guard official Marks Honavko explained.

"The children were of course a little scared, but they got to sleep last night," he said.

Latvia has agreed to take in a total of 531 refugees from Italy and Greece, with the possibility that number could rise to a maximum of 776 if agreement can be reached with other EU member states.

However, all political parties are against the introduction of any form of compulsory quotas by the EU. 

The news from Latvia contrasted with elsewhere in Europe where anti-immigrant demonstrations are being staged in several countries, led by Germany's Pegida movement.

But Riga also witnessed a demonstration with Latvian Radio reporting that around 200 people gathered at the Freedom Monument to protest against migrants.

Source=http://www.lsm.lv/en/article/societ/society/first-refugees-arrive-from-syria-eritrea.a167832/

Why Paradigmatic Shift ?

Sunday, 07 February 2016 23:34 Written by

A paradigm is a model where a certain problem is solved. It is the collection of conscious and unconscious rules or norms dominating it, and which control both the large and small scale individual and group thoughts and actions. Why paradigm shift at this time in the struggle from dictatorship to democracy is because the old norms and rules that we have during the past does not solve our current problems. More problems are arising every time in the Eritrean Opposition forces for democratic change and still we don't have clear methods to solve them. We all want to solve them, but we lack the skills and knowledge. Problems are shelved but this shelving of our problems is now ripe for paradigm shift. The unresolved problems may thus engender a new era and the organization which gets there takes the first lead of leading the struggle. What the Eritrean Opposition need is identifying and defining constraints to our thoughts and consequently our actions, and indicating how to act within these constraints to attain success and solve the challenges and problems. In this article, I will deal with the constraints and our actions to attain success and solve the challenges and problems. I will classify the constraints six parts:

 

1. Political

2. Working relations

3. Internal problems

4. Organisational capacities

5.Sources of knowledge and skills of the organization

6. The role and quality of media

 

1. Political constraint

The Eritrean forces for democratic change are facing structural constraints in their internal and external environment. In their internal environment they failed to establish a mutual accommodation and a wilful cooperation. The norm today in the camp of the opposition is marginalizing one another and acquiring hegemony and self-aggrandizement ( in ruthless manner) in your cleavages under certain identities that you never respect them. There is misconception of the democratic values. There is a serious gap between the rhetoric and practicing. Adhesion to such structure is creating confusion and blaming each other accompanied by a litany of attacking others and making yourself free. The external environment was not also conductive in the past to own your case and make your own policies and this has been evidenced in all the meetings of the opposition. What we need is to openly discuss these political constraints internally and externally that weakens our partnerships and co-operations dysfunctional. The demands of this time differ from the demands of the liberation period, therefore, we must search find a political structure where the demand and supply curves meet or are in equilibrium.

 

2. Poor working relations

I am not sure what does the tigrinya, " Smret, Hadnet" mean. In every speech or meeting we all cry for Smret, Hadnet but these has been our daily explanation but we don' t practice it. I think let us get rid of repetitive mantra of Smere or Hadnet and change it to how can we build working sustainable relations  in order to achieve a peaceful and democratic Eritrea respecting our diversities. The most constraining factor that hamper to develop a good and sustainable working relationship is the unclear or conflicting objectives of the various organizations struggling for democratic change. The trend we have cannot help us to establish working relations based on common interests but domination and power. We must change this trend of domination and inequality a trend of attacks and counter-attacks. Working relations is the way you act and react building a culture and process of work that promotes the common objectives. With the word , " culture" I mean the values and attitudes that we all share in Eritrea. We need a paradigm shift change the culture of negation and hate politics inside the opposition and build a culture of mutual respect and co-operation.

 

3. Internal problems/ hampering attitudes

The main problem of the Eritrean opposition forces for democratic change is the lack of a political clout/ courage that can strike hard the dictatorship and gain legitimacy from both the Eritrean people and international community. Lack of good communication between the various leaders of organizations.  One of the most characteristics of leadership is how the leader communicate with people and issues. But the Eritrean political or civic has been and are still sharp antagonistic with each other, instead of attacking the problems they attack each other. Such culture of  communication never lead to succeed and work together in harmony. One of the internal problems is our way of communication with each other. We must change our way of communication being soft with partners and hard with the issues. What I see and experience in the my resident country is fear of one another with suspicion and the desire to eliminate his/ her presence  in the participation for democratic change. Let us improve the climate of  mutual respect and reception and thus learn the art of negotiation.

 

4. Organisational capacities

Thanks to the western democracy and the freedom to organize any movement, today there are hundreds civic organizations of Eritrean origin in each resident cities of the western countries. Most of the civic organizations are composed of 5 or 6 persons with statute but have no members or administrative bodies, program, resources and finances. Any organization strength or weakness is characterized by the following checkpoints:

- Organizational structure

- Organizational administration

- Membership

- Youth and women participation

- Organizational program

- Democracy

- Financial and human resources

- Public relations

- Relations with media

 

Any organization has level of action. The actions and responsibilities can be divided into three levels. They are the Strategic level, Managerial level and Operative level. These three levels function the same as our bodily blood circulation system. The Strategic level is responsible to plan the vision, mission, program and position of the organization, while the Managerial level is responsible for resources allocation and performance monitoring, and the Operative level's responsibility is following up day today activities and organizational process of development.

 

If we see the various opposition political or civic organizations they all lack the above mentioned criteria in order to be functioning organizations.

 

5. Sources of knowledge and skills of the organization

The opposition in Diaspora lack the sources of knowledge and skills to challenge the supporters of the dictatorship. This was one the most factor that we still couldn't give attention. It has been difficult to compete with the dictator's supporters in the foreign countries while we have more opportunities than the dictator's supporters. The quality of knowledge and skills is how to gain the public opinion and get more legitimacy and support from your own people and the international community. The opposition must search skills and knowledge that can win the support of the Eritrean people instead of demonizing each other.

6. The role and quality of media

Media is the main weapon to mobilize and make aware the public on their human and fundamental democratic rights. The role of media in the opposition has been a campaign against each other instead of warring the oppressive regime and its supporters. The media in the opposition has been a main factor of not promoting democracy but in contrary hindering the opposition from coming together.

 

The quality of the media of the opposition did not facilitate learning, therefore, the opposition must evaluate and change this trend of retardation to a new trend of promoting democracy and human development.

In sum, it is difficult, but not impossible task to paradigm shift but let us look forward and overcome the problems facing us fight the dictatorship in Eritrea.

Zenobia Bel

Do Not Risk Your Lives, Filippo Grandi Tells Eritrean Refugees in Ethiopia

Filippo Grandi

 Shire, Ethiopia (UNHCR)―Improving conditions for refugees in camps and expanding programs for legal pathways outside Ethiopia were both key to reducing the numbers who attempt perilous journeys to reach safety, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said as he met Eritreans who fled to Ethiopia.

After Syrians, Afghans, and Iraqis, Eritreans were the fourth most common group of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in 2015. On his first trip to Africa as High Commissioner, Grandi visited Hitsats camp, one of four hosting Eritreans in Ethiopia’s northern highlands.

The refugees there told Filippo Grandi that their mostly young population would not fall prey to smugglers and human traffickers if, after fleeing from their homes, they found more reasons beyond simple security to stay in the refugee settlements in Ethiopia. Education and promises of productive life elsewhere were the priorities, they said.

Their experience is matched by millions of other people fleeing conflict and persecution who find themselves initially sheltered in locations where the lack of opportunity often drives them to leave again in search of a future.

“We will do our best to create opportunities here and to improve resettlement placements and other legal ways of migration so that refugees will not expose themselves to danger,” Grandi said during his visit to Hitsats.

“Your points are well taken and please rest assured that I will do my best to call attention to your situation so we can mobilize more resources and improve the living conditions in the camps.”

Ethiopia looks after 734,000 mostly South Sudanese, Somali, and Eritrean refugees, more than any other country in Africa. Some 155,000 of them are Eritrean, and many report fleeing home out of fear.

Hagos*, who is 26 and arrived in Hitsats in 2014, said he was forced to serve in the Eritrean army for seven years, much longer than the national service to which he initially thought he was committed.

“I would not object to the mandatory national service if the government respected the 18-month term limit,” said Hagos. Instead, he was paid a pittance, could not leave, and added: “As if this was not injustice enough, the commanders violate our rights every day, hence my decision to flee.”

Hagos said he hid during the day and walked only under cover of darkness during the 10 days it took him to reach Ethiopia. He found safety at Hitsats, but said life still carried challenges. “I completed 12th grade at school before joining the army and here there is no way I could continue my education,” he said, adding a plea for better opportunities for continued education, or vocational training, at the camp.

He is not alone in requesting the chance to continue schooling. Of the nearly 38,000 refugees living in the four camps near the town of Shire here, three quarters are aged under 25, and many of those are teenagers and children.

One 16-year-old, Kidan*, described how she fled on her own from Eritrea in 2014 but decided after only a few months in Ethiopia to find a smuggler – called a ‘pilot’ here – to take her to Europe.

“Frustrated by the difficulties of life in Hitsats, I contacted a pilot and traveled on foot for many days and nights before we got to the border with Sudan, hungry and thirsty,” she said.

After crossing through her homeland and making it close to its border with Sudan, Eritrean guards caught and detained her for several days. The authorities eventually released her, but made her mother sign a guarantee that she would pay 90,000 nakfa, the equivalent of several thousand dollars, if her daughter fled again.

Nonetheless, life at home was so difficult that Kidan again made the journey to Ethiopia, with her mother and siblings soon following her out of fear that the authorities would track them down, demand the money, and likely imprison them when they could not pay.

Recent surveys in the six refugee camps hosting Eritreans in Ethiopia found that 82,000 were no longer present in the camps and were so far unaccounted for. It is expected that few would have tried voluntarily to return to Eritrea. Some may be in other parts of Ethiopia, while the rest may have joined the ranks of those trying to reach Europe. UNHCR is working with the Ethiopian government’s refugee agency, the Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, or ARRA, to track down these individuals.

Better schooling, more vocational training, and the promise of resettlement would stop those refugees and others like Kidan and Hagos from attempting these dangerous journeys, Grandi was told during his visit. He was accompanied by Ayalew Aweke, the Deputy Director of ARRA, Valentin Tapsoba, the Director of UNHCR’s Africa Bureau, and Clementine Nkweta-Salami, the UNHCR Representative in Ethiopia.

Filippo Grandi‘s visit to Ethiopia was his first to Africa since taking office as High Commissioner at the start of 2016. Earlier, he attended the 26th African Union Summit in the capital, Addis Ababa, and met with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, whom he thanked for the country’s ongoing welcome to people fleeing hardship across the region.

“Notwithstanding its current challenges related to the severe drought affecting certain parts of the country, Ethiopia continues to maintain an open door policy and is hosting the largest refugee population in Africa today,” Grandi said.

Source=http://www.ethiogrio.com/news/40579-do-not-risk-your-lives-filippo-grandi-tells-eritrean-refugees-in-ethiopia.html

 
 
 

Labour launches immigration listening tour

Thursday, 04 February 2016 10:11 Written by

 

Labour launches immigration listening tour
February 4th, 2016
Author: Economic Voice Staff
 
 
0

Labour Party to listen to country's immigration concerns

The Labour Party will today begin a three-month tour of the country to listen to public concerns on immigration while the party rethinks its policy agenda.

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham and Shadow Immigration Minister Keir Starmer will launch the tour in Wolverhampton and hold a series of meetings with local businesses, students and representatives from the Higher Education sector before hosting a public meeting in Dudley.

Over three months, Starmer will visit every part of the UK to hear people’s views on immigration policy and its impact on local communities. He will hold roundtable events with the CBI, the TUC and Universities UK.

Houses of Parliament (PD)

Keir Starmer MP, said:

This is not intended to be an easy or comfortable exercise. It is a genuine attempt to listen to and learn from the public on the issues of migration and refugees.

“I will spend the next three months visiting different parts of the UK, listening to the arguments and seeing for myself both the advantages and challenges that migration brings in different places.

“There are many, varied and legitimate views on migration across the Labour party and the UK. Many Labour voters and supporters are worried about migration and their concerns are our concerns.”

Andy Burnham MP, said:

"Labour needs a plan to win back the voters we failed to convince on immigration. We will not succeed in doing that by denying the effect that migration has had on some communities. EU free movement is, overall, beneficial to our society and economy. But it has a different input on different places. In some of our more deprived areas, it has put pressure on public services and undermined jobs and wages. If politicians don't understand and acknowledge that, then we will continue to look out of touch.

“For too long, Labour has been uncomfortable discussing immigration. This listening tour is an attempt to change that and deal directly and honestly with it. The answer is not to cut ourselves off from the world but to be clear about the need for strong borders and firm but fair rules. We need practical solutions to the problems free movement creates, such as EU funding to support the communities most affected and rules to prevent the under-cutting of wages. Labour will continue to argue for these things as part of our renegotiation with the EU. And Labour will be resolute in opposing further Tory cuts to our Border Force that are now on the way.

Source=https://www.economicvoice.com/labour-launches-immigration-listening-tour/

3 February 2016

Asylum seekers stage a protest by leaning against the fence of the Holot detention centreImage copyright AFP Image caption Asylum seekers stage a protest by leaning against the fence of the Holot detention centre

For nearly a year Israel has been offering African migrants cash and the chance to go and live in what is supposed to be a safe haven in a third country - but the BBC has spoken to two men who say that they were abandoned as soon as they got off the plane. One was immediately trafficked, the other left to fend for himself without papers.

Adam was 18 when he arrived in Israel in 2011. Attackers had burned down his home in Darfur at the height of the genocide, and he had spent his teenage years in a UN refugee camp in another part of Sudan. With no prospects in the camp and no sign of an end to the conflict in Darfur, he made his way north through Egypt and the lawless Sinai peninsula to Israel.

But Israel - which has approved fewer than 1% of asylum applications since it signed the UN Refugee Convention six decades ago - has not offered asylum to a single person from Sudan. It turned down Adam's application, and last October, when he went to renew the temporary permit allowing him to stay in the country, he was summoned to a detention centre known as Holot, deep in the Negev desert.

The government calls Holot an "open-stay centre", but it's run by the prison service and rules are strict, including a night-time curfew, which, if broken, will land you in jail.

 It's in such an isolated area that there's very little to do and nowhere to go.

I talked to Adam and a group of his friends just outside the gates of Holot, where, at that time, they spent most of their day playing cards or snooker, and eating and cooking in makeshift restaurants.

Restaurants outside Holot

They told me they took turns to make the hour-long bus ride into the nearest town, Beersheva, where they bought food. The meals served in Holot were insufficient, they said, and contained little meat or protein.

Most of the men there were young - in their 20s or early 30s. Some had been teachers, activists or students in their own countries.

"We are wasting our youth here," Adam says. "If someone lives in Holot, they have no future... You find many people here go crazy."

Since I visited Holot, those makeshift restaurants and game areas have all been demolished on the orders of the government, leaving those inside with even fewer ways to pass the time.

Saharonim PrisonImage caption Holot detention centre is located close to Saharonim prison, where those who refuse to leave Israel may be held indefinitely

Adam will be held in Holot for 12 months. Then he is likely to face a stark choice:

  • Go home to Sudan
  • Stay in Israel, but be imprisoned indefinitely
  • Accept departure to a third country

The Israeli government has deals with two countries in Africa to host its unwanted migrants.

It promises that people who take the option of "voluntary departure to third countries" will receive papers on arrival that give them legal status in the country.


Find out more

Watch Kathy Harcombe's TV report for Focus on Africa on BBC World News at 17:30 GMT, Wednesday 3 February.


As an extra incentive, they're given $3,500 (£2,435) in cash, handed over in the departure lounge of the airport in Tel Aviv.

Israel refuses to name the two African countries but the BBC has spoken to migrants who say they were sent to Rwanda and Uganda.

One is Tesfay, an Eritrean who was flown to Rwanda in March 2015, and he told me that far from being offered legal status, a home and the chance of a job in Rwanda - as he had been promised in Israel - he became a victim of trafficking.

Laissez passer document from Israel

His identity papers - a travel document and a single-entry visa to Rwanda, both issued in Israel - were immediately confiscated at Kigali airport, he says.

Then, along with nine other Eritreans, he was taken to a "guest house". None of them was allowed out. It would be dangerous without papers, they were told. Then, two days after arriving, the men were told it was time to leave.

Rwanda guest houseImage caption Tesfay took this picture of the guest house in Rwanda

"You are going to Uganda. But before you go, you need to pay $150," said a man who introduced himself as John. "Then from the border to Kampala you need to pay again."

Crammed into a minibus, they made the six-hour journey to the Ugandan border, where they were told to get out of the bus.

"When we crossed the border, that's when I understood that we were being smuggled," Tesfay says. "We went on foot, silently. We were being smuggled from one state to another."

As promised by "John", they had to pay another $150 to continue their journey to the Ugandan capital, Kampala.

But inevitably, having entered as illegal immigrants, they were arrested on arrival and put behind bars - after police had relieved them of about half the cash in their pockets, Tesfay says.

Uganda police warrant

With what was left, Tesfay managed to post bail. He was due to appear in court five days later and having already been warned he was likely to be deported to Eritrea - the repressive authoritarian state he had fled in the first place - he decided to take no chances. He paid another smuggler to get him into Kenya, where he is now seeking asylum.

Tesfay looking at a document

Rwanda has never confirmed that it struck a deal to host Israel's unwanted migrants. The Ugandan government, for its part, has denied outright that such a deal exists - it told the BBC it was investigating how migrants who claimed to have been sent from Israel were entering the country.

The BBC spoke to a man from Darfur who said he was flown to Uganda from Israel with seven others in 2014, before the third country policy became official.

For safety reasons, he asked to remain anonymous.

"None of the things I was promised were given to me," he said. "No documents, no passport, no assistance - nothing. (Israel) just wants to take people and dump them."

Israel border fence with EgyptImage copyright EPA Image caption Israel fenced the Egyptian border in 2013, reducing the flow of migrants into the country

In October, Israeli immigration authorities said 3,000 asylum seekers had left Israel for a third country. But the BBC has learned that only seven have registered with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Rwanda, all of them Eritreans, and only eight, mostly from Sudan, in Uganda.

Meanwhile, there are about 45,000 Eritreans and Sudanese in Israel. The government won't deport them - that would be a clear breach of the UN Refugee Convention, which it signed in 1954. Under the Convention, no-one can be forcibly returned to a country where they have a justified fear of persecution.

But if Israel treats them as refugees at least in this respect, why does it then refuse them asylum?

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon says the migrants threaten the security, and the identity, of the Jewish state.

"It's obvious that we live here in a situation which is rather complex and complicated. And if you add this element of migrants who come here and who want to stay here - undoubtedly because this is a rich and prosperous country - then it could become also a challenge to our identity here in Israel.

"It's not only about the 45,000 or 50,000 people that already are here in Israel, it's about the potential. Because those people tell their friends and families back home - 'Look, this is a very nice place. Do come over.'"

Tel Aviv streetImage caption Migrants on a street in Tel Aviv

And, of course, in Israel there is also the ever present issue of security.

"Open borders through which migrants can pass mean also open borders through which terror organisations can penetrate Israeli territory and commit terror acts," Nahshon says.

But lawyers fighting against the Third Country policy in Israel's Supreme Court argue that the country is in breach of its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention.

"[Migrants] are stigmatised as 'infiltrators' and then have their asylum application adjudicated in sort of a conveyor-belt system which rejects everyone," says one of the lawyers, Anat Ben-Dor.

"And then the whole idea of asking them to give their 'voluntary' consent to something they do not know because this is a secret arrangement... Of course this is not voluntary because you are using the threat of putting them indefinitely in prison if they refuse to go.

UN we need freedom signImage caption Graffiti at the Holot detention centre

"And then when they land in one of those two countries the lack of proper monitoring cannot really secure, in the necessary certainty, that those people would not end up either without [legal] status, or in prison, or - worst of all - being returned to places where they would face danger."

Sigal Rozen, from the Israeli human rights group Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, says that the failure by Israel to guarantee the migrants' security in Rwanda and Uganda means they are forced to risk their lives elsewhere.

"Some of them continue to South Sudan, others to Kenya, to Ethiopia, and many end up in Europe after they take the route through Libya and Italy. Unfortunately many others die on the way and we never hear from them again," she says.

There's a joke among the migrants, she says, that the Israeli government's departing "gift" of $3,500 is just enough money to get to Europe.

But the Israeli government is adamant that it's acting within the framework of international law and is offering a fair deal to the migrants.

But in Tesfay's opinion, he did not get a fair deal.

"The Israeli authority - it's not what they promised. I have no safety - I have no protection at all," he says.

The risk is that Adam and the other residents of Holot will experience exactly the same thing when they arrive in Africa.

Source=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-35475403?SThisFB

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28Jan2016

The UK will offer safety to more unaccompanied refugee children, the Government has announced.

The UK has asked the UN's Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to identify Syrian unaccompanied children currently living in the Middle East and other conflict zones who could benefit from resettlement. It is unclear how many children will be offered safe haven, but this scheme will be in addition to the Government’s pledge to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020.

The Government has rejected calls to offer safe haven to 3,000 unaccompanied children who have made the perilous journey to Europe and who are living in dangerous situations across the continent.

However, the UK has promised to allow children in Europe with relatives here to finally realise their rights to be allowed to join them in the UK while their claims for asylum are examined.

While existing European rules in theory already allow this to happen, they are rarely implemented, leaving children desperate to join their loved ones with little option than to undertake a risky march of misery across the continent to try and reach them.

The Refugee Council has long called for these rules to be properly utilised to prevent refugees from being forced into such dangerous journeys and is now calling for their speedy implementation.

Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr Lisa Doyle welcomed the move, saying: "Children who are travelling alone in Europe are vulnerable to succumbing to freezing temperatures, abuse and exploitation. It’s vital the Government acts as quickly as possible to bring families together in order to prevent the unnecessary risk and hardship experienced by those currently forced to make treacherous journeys to reach their loved ones.”

Despite this step forward, the Refugee Council is concerned that the Government is still refusing to help share responsibility for protecting the men, women and children arriving on Europe’s shores – a deliberate failure to acknowledge the fact that these refugees are fleeing the same atrocities as those the Government is choosing to resettle and are also in dire need of protection.

The Refugee Council is calling for Britain to voluntarily step forward and show leadership in its approach to the refugee crisis by offering to help protect some of the refugees arriving in Europe, as well as by establishing alternative routes to safety for those fleeing for their lives.

Source=http://www.refugeecouncil.org.uk/latest/news/4535_uk_to_offer_safety_to_more_lone_refugee_children?utm_source=Refugee+Council&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=6711414_Reuniting+Families+Update+%2828%2F01%2F16%29&utm_content=Link+to+Article&dm_i=I6P%2C3ZUK6%2C5PQQ7W%2CEFM33%2C1